The Saint Gaudens $20 Double Eagle is known as the “Most Beautiful Coin in the World,” for good reason. It was inspired by a great President, designed by America’s foremost sculptor, and struck in high-relief gold.
In 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt had a vision to transform America’s bland coinage into beautiful works of monetary art. He enlisted America’s preeminent sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who was dying of cancer, to help reform America’s gold coinage.
Roosevelt was inspired by high-relief ancient coins of Alexander the Great, and St. Gaudens’ created his last work of art, a masterpiece that he promised, “Would become a living thing.” St. Gaudens finished the design just before his death but never got to see the coin minted. However, he also designed the obverse of the new Indian Head $10 gold eagle that he was able to hold just before his death.
The U.S. Mint Chief Engraver, Charles E. Barber, had vicious objections to Saint-Gaudens high relief design. Roosevelt responded, “Begin the new issue even if it takes all day to strike one piece!” The high-relief design was reduced to a business strike for general circulation and the series ran from 1907 – 1933.